RENO - One thing is painfully evident about the University of Nevada's football team - it takes a while for it to get untracked offensively.
Through nine games, the Wolf Pack had put only 41 first-quarter points on the scoreboard, an average of 4.5 per game. In four games - San Diego State, Buffalo, Tulsa and Louisiana Tech they were blanked in the first 15 minutes.
"I had no idea (it was that low)," said Nevada quarterback Jeff Rowe, who leads the Wolf Pack into a pivotal Western Athletic Conference road game at SMU Saturday at 3 p.m. "You always want to come out hard and get off to a good start."
Fast starts can bury teams. Fast starts take teams out of their offensive game plan and it's easier to play defense with a big lead on the scoreboard. When you consider how prolific Nevada's offense is, it's surprising that the Wolf Pack hasn't been more effective in the first quarter. Only in the Rice (14 points) and Hawai'i (10 points) games have the Wolf Pack scored more than a touchdown.
Case in point. When Nevada jumped on Rice for two first-quarter touchdowns and had a 21-3 lead at the half, option-happy Rice was forced to throw the ball much more than it wanted, and if you've seen Rice play, you know the Owls don't throw the ball well with quarterbacks Greg Henderson and Joel Armstrong at the helm.
Nevada coach Chris Ault admitted he would like to do better early in the game, but he's more concerned on how his team plays in the fourth quarter where Nevada has outscored its opponents 114-101.
"No, I don't look at it that much (first quarter)," Ault said. "Absolutely it would be nice (to score more early). We're moving the ball, we just make mistakes; mental mistakes. It's been a dropped pass, a missed audible or a fumble. It's been costly in terms of points."
Indeed. The mistakes have come at inopportune times. In the season-opener against Louisiana Tech, Rowe fumbled the ball on a second-and-nine play at the Tech 26, costing the Wolf Pack a chance to go in for a tying first-quarter score.
Against UNLV, a third-down sack on Nevada's first possession of the game forced the Wolf Pack to kick a field goal. The Wolf Pack came up empty on their next drive, as Rowe, who has played brilliant football during the Pack's three-game win streak, threw an interception at the goal line that was turned into a game-tying field goal. A huge momentum-turning play, which is what the Wolf Pack need to stay away from against SMU, Fresno State and Boise State.
Conversely, Ault has been pleased with the fourth-quarter production of his team.
A 17-point fourth quarter helped the Wolf Pack subdue Buffalo 38-13, and Nevada has put up 14-point fourth quarters in wins over Sacramento State (59-7), Tulsa (54-48 3 OT), San Jose State (42-24) and Rice (35-10).
Ault was pleased with the play of Charles Wilson, who made his debut at defensive tackle in place of P.J. Hoeper last weekend. Wilson finished with five tackles, including two sacks for minus-9 yards.
"He made a big difference (last week)," Ault said. "He's very athletic and physical. He gives us speed which we need up front. We need guys up front that can move."
Wilson, who broke his ankle earlier this year, has been a productive player this season. Of his 14 tackles, 7 1/2 have been behind the line, including three for sacks. He also has recovered two fumbles.
Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1281.